The southern part of Iceland offers an almost celestial depiction of numerous otherworldly landforms, contrasting landscapes of black sand beaches, rivers, waterfalls, and volcanoes – places that are also home to intriguing animals and birds species. There, at the tip of the Icelandic mainland, as its most southerly point, are the Dyrhólaey cliffs, picturesquely drawn out into the ocean.
Interested in learning more about this beautiful natural scenery? If so then read on!
The cliffs, the beach, and its shoreline with black volcanic sand make the place one of the popular tourist attractions in the country. The promontory itself is a mass of land accumulation that is wedged into the ocean by a formation of solid rock ridge that has resisted and withstood the erosions of the elements.
History and facts of Dyrhólaey
Sailors once called the promontory Cape Portland, and its present name is a combination of characteristics: ‘neck’, ‘hill’, and ‘island’. The Cape is the result of numerous and powerful volcanic eruptions in prehistoric times, about 100,000 years ago.
It rises to a height of 120 m and the white-stone Dyrhólaey Lighthouse, facing omnisciently towards the ocean, marks its ridge. Anyone who climbs to the top gets a divine view: the Mýrdalsjökull glacier, one of the remarkable ice caps of the Icelandic South, stops the eye from the north; the columns of black lava eerily bursting out of the water at Reynisdrangar surprise from the east; and if the weather is clear, the view of Selfoss and the whole coast opens up in the distance to the west.
“The ‘gateway’ to the peninsula is actually a towering, huge black arch of lava rising out of the water, and an imposing palm-shaped mass of rock rising up over the strip of black sand. Because of its black sand, the beach was named one of the top ten most beautiful non-tropical beaches in the world, and in 2021 it was moved up to 6th place. What inevitably pushes it forward in the rankings are its huge basalt cliffs, the roaring waves of the Atlantic around them, and the stunning panoramas.
The whimsical natural forms around Dyrhólaey have made a lasting impression on Icelandic folklore and feature in stories and various sagas – including love ones between people with special qualities and trolls or other demons, as well as in tales of dramas such as shipwrecks and disasters. The television viewer sees these black shores repeatedly in the Icelandic series Katla, linked to the family drama of the main character.
During the summer months, colonies of Atlantic puffins and kittiwakes come to the Dyrhólaey cliffs to breed. The Icelandic puffin has a black crown and back, pale grey spots on the cheeks, and white underparts. Its broad boldly marked red and black bill and orange legs contrast with its plumage. In winter, while at sea, some of the bright and recognizable facial markings are lost, but in spring his vivid colors return. They spend the autumn and winter in the open ocean towards the northern seas and return to the coastlines in late spring at the start of the breeding season.
How to get to Dyrhólaey
The place is located about 180 km from the capital Reykjavík and is a must-stop on a tour of the southern coast. The distance can be taken in about two and a half hours from the capital, meaning the trip itself can be planned for even half or full days in combination with other sightseeing. Cape Dyrhólaey is not far from the settlement of Vík, but it is a few kilometers from the main road, so it is accessible by car.
If you’d like to visit Dyrhólaey cliffs, why not join one of our many Guided Tours?